Building to house USTAR researchers

In a step toward jump-starting a new statewide effort to encourage technology research, the U opened its recently purchased BRAIN Institute Building to temporarily house new researchers.

Faculty celebrated the opening of the new building in Research Park last night, which will function as a temporary facility for faculty hired under the Utah Science Technology and Research Initiative.

USTAR researchers will work out of the building until a permanent USTAR complex is built. The complex will likely be placed on the U’s golf course and is expected to be completed by Spring 2011.

New faculty members were hired with money provided by USTAR. The Utah Legislature created the program to encourage technology research and, in turn, stimulate Utah’s economy.

“After we successfully recruited USTAR candidates, our problem was where we were going to put them,” said Lorris Betz, vice president of health sciences. “This building was really a fortuitous acquisition for the university,”

The new building is three stories tall and already equipped for USTAR faculty.

The U bought the building from NPS Pharmaceuticals for $21 million in July after the company relocated.

James Bardsley, an associate vice president of health sciences at the U, said the purchase was “extraordinarily cheap” because NPS was forced to relocate after the company had trouble getting FDA approval for a drug.

The U plans to put another $5 million into the building to create more lab space on the second floor.

USTAR faculty have already begun arriving, and one researcher, Marc Porter, has already settled into the lower level of the building. Porter works on research involving gold nanoparticles that have been shown to “burn” away cancer cells with a laser, allowing patients to avoid dangerous surgery, said Christian Schoen, vice president of Nanopartz, Porter’s company that manufactures gold nanoparticles.

Porter is not the only new faculty member who will work in the building. Researchers John White, Julie Korenberg and Hamid Ghandehari were all guests at the event last night.

Ghandehari, who recently moved from the University of Maryland to do work in chemistry, pharmacy and pharmaceutical chemistry, will also begin working in the building. His research involves tracking drugs to make sure cancer treatments actually reach cancer cells instead of causing toxicity in the brain or liver.

USTAR is meant to bring together faculty from various fields of expertise to share their scientific knowledge and ideas.

“At this new building, bioengineering researchers will mix with neuroscientists and the like to come up with new approaches in their research,” Bardsley said.

Korenberg decided to move to the U to work with other researchers to develop her ideas on the relationship between the brain, immune system and behavior for mass use.

“For me, it’s just time to commercialize the basic research I’m doing to improve human welfare — something I’ve wanted to do for so long,” she said.

The U also hired Perry Renshaw and Deborah Yurgelun Todd from Harvard Medical School. The two study brain functions and circuitry-controlling behavior.

USTAR and BRAIN Institute faculty will be able to educate the public about brain disorders and teach the next generation of scientists and physicians, said Tom Parks, executive director of the BRAIN Institute.

[email protected]

Clayton Norlen

Hamid Ghandehari, from the Univesity of Maryland, speaks with James Bardsley, associate vice-president of health sciences during the opening of the new Brain Institute building on Thursday night. USTAR faculty will use the building temporarily until the new building is finished on the golf course.